Something Funny For Your Money

18 Mar

I’ve never really understood the cynicism around Comic Relief and Red Nose Day.

Maybe this is because I grew up in America where charity telethons’ goal was twofold: to encourage you to donate money and to drive you to the brink of insanity. The most famous, of course, is the Jerry Lewis MDA Supershow, which features said Jerry Lewis (bad enough) and lots of people you don’t recognise, thought had died a decade before or actively despise singing and dancing on stage in front of a big band for twenty-two hours straight. Because the telethon dominates Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, millions of children who otherwise would never consider bullying begin resenting disabled kids whom they blame for ruining their last weekend before the school year starts.

Comic Relief, though, is different, and I’d like to address the naysayers now.

A lot of people are nasty about rich celebrities going on about helping poor people.  In fact, I remember the day Richard Curtis first pitched the idea of Comic Relief to me over lunch. He said, “Agatha, I was thinking about getting celebrities together to do a charity event—I’m thinking Sting, Madonna, U2, singing on stage while the public phones in with donations.” I said to him, “Dickie, let’s face it, Bono’s small change alone could solve all of the world’s problems. If you want the public to be able to forget that, you’ve got to make people laugh.”

And Comic Relief does that.  I’m sure we’ve all got our favourites—Alan Partridge, Ricky Gervais and Robert Webb spring to my mind.  Of course, not everything works: sometimes Paul Daniels can’t milk Eddie the Eagle’s elbow, sometimes Ruby Wax sings and sometimes Jeremy Clarkson’s face appears on screen. But overall, there’s quite a bit there that is cleverly funny.

In contrast, the video reports from the places Comic Relief supports are not funny, but aren’t supposed to be. They are generally quite moving and informative.  When I hear people complain about the short films, I want to kick them in the shins (and, when I can, I do). The purpose of those videos is to help us feel the despair of those suffering.  Jamie Oliver in Africa should be painful to watch and it consistently is. If you really hate these clips so much, donate enough money and there will be nothing left to film.

Lastly, Comic Relief celebrates not just the humour of the professional funny people, but the average person as well. Seriously, how can we hold anything against the institution which catapulted the bath of baked beans into our consciousness? Is there anything funnier than a person sitting in a bath of baked beans? The answer is no.

I am doing my part. You should do yours. On Red Nose Day, don’t be unpleasant.  Donate your fiver.

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